Maybe you’re thinking, “12 personnel is great, we get it. There’s a lot of balancing risk and reward involved in implementing it on an NFL team, you went through that in too many words. But–“ Will it work for Dallas? I think so. 12 personnel’s success is dependent on a run-pass balance. The defense has to be kept guessing in order for the offense to win more downs than they lose. Lack of tendencies are also key. You can’t show on film that in a certain formation/down-distance combination you run a backside stretch play 72% of the time. Defenses dissect trends and percentages, and keeping everything as close to 50-50 as possible ensures that Tony Romo will see more balanced and reactive alignments and defenses. A perfect recipe for big offensive numbers. Callahan could help in this area if he brings a true commitment to the run game, and the tangible benefits that come as a result. Although running the ball more often won’t automatically improve your rushing attack, so that offensive line…
Jason Witten is another key reason I think this will be a viable option for Dallas. He’s a beast (technical term), there’s no getting around it. Is he a better blocker than pass catcher? Watch film instead of looking at numbers, and you’ll have a hard time making your choice. Even though he may not have insane touchdown numbers, or be blocking for multiple 1,000 yard rushers, he is a force to be reckoned with in both situations. Already the Cowboys split him out (aligned away from the offensive line, like a wide receiver) a fair amount of the time. Using him as a stand up receiver isn’t a gimmick, and his ability to be an elite receiver in-line and split out lends instant credibility to the Cowboys making this move.
And this is without even mentioning how utilizing Witten opens up the field for Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and his sensitive hamstring, DeMarco Murray, and the stable of running backs ready to step up when Murray gets hurt. Suffice it to say that Witten is what makes this offensive package go (if it does).
Unfortunately, nothing in the NFL is a guarantee. There are reasons why having 12 personnel as the base offense won’t be the juggernaut we all want it to be. The biggest one? Same reason the team as a whole might not have a good year–the offensive line. It was horrendous last year, and not enough was done to strengthen it for this season. I like Travis Frederick and understand why he was drafted where he was, but none of us heard anyone say that this line was one center away from being sufficient. Effective pressure and blitzes could force the tight ends to stay as blockers and not receivers if the offensive line can’t handle them, which largely negates the advantages of this personnel package. Not having either of the newly drafted tight ends stepping up to become a balanced threat is a death knell for this strategy. When the defense knows what you use Player X for, they know the most likely play call when he’s in the game. Consistent five and six man protections and at least one of the young tight ends turning a weakness into (at least) an adequacy are the main keys for success for this package.
The Cowboys have made the decision to build their offense around a two tight end personnel package, and it has the potential to push their offense from one that struggled inside the red zone to one that can score from anywhere on the field–and against any defense. They have the talent to make this not only succeed, but put them in the playoffs. Also, their deficiencies make this a perilous move that could have ramifications beyond this season. If this ends up as a failed experiment, it could be seasons until they recover. Until that first kickoff against the Giants in September, we won’t know for sure if this will work. But regardless, I can’t stop thinking (or talking, or writing) about it.